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5 Ways Your Business Can Better Leverage Social Media

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5 Ways Business Can Better Leverage Social Media

If your business is not using social media to its advantage, now is the time to start. Social media platforms are free to use and have lots of features to help businesses market themselves. These platforms get a lot of money from the ad revenue they generate from businesses, but you don’t have to give them a dime to see social media make an instant impact.

The truth is that modern consumers spend hours a day on social media sites. They will often use social media to ask about businesses and review their information and content. In addition, by posting content, you can reach new customers who were unaware of your brand before logging on.

That said, social media can be an intimidating space for businesses to get their footing. You might not know where to start or what you should be doing to reap the benefits of social media. These five tips will give you and your brand a helpful nudge in the right direction.

1. Truly Engage With Customers

When just dipping your toes in the water, you might think the obvious use of social media is to promote your new products or deals. You can attach links to your website, with the goal of achieving high click-through rates that result in sales. While this is a great strategy, social media can be used for so much more. These platforms allow you to engage with your customers on a more personal level.

Begin by posting content that addresses your customers’ wants and needs. Keep in mind the tone of voice you use in your writing and make sure that it reflects your brand accurately.

Above all, be consistent with your use of these platforms. You don’t need to post every single day, but your content schedule needs to deliver at a decent enough clip that customers stay engaged.

Another thing you can do is post a poll for customers to respond to. This can give you insight into how customers view your brand and products. Some companies also use social media for customer service. Team members will respond to comments and posts containing issues and complaints and try to come up with solutions. By reaching out to customers, you can often turn negative experiences with your brand into opportunities to build loyalty.

2. Post on Multiple Platforms

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, and more. There are so many social media platforms, each with its specific features and target audience. You can get comfortable with one, but you’ll find more success by using multiple different platforms.

While you will be able to reach numerous customers through Facebook, some users might have migrated to Instagram or another platform. If you’re restricting yourself to one, you won’t be able to reach all your potential new clients. Even posting the same content across channels can help with your brand visibility.

3. Use Integrations

There are plenty of useful tools you can use alongside your social media platforms. For example, Facebook allows businesses to integrate a schedule into their pages. Users who see your content and want to book a time slot at your appointment-based business can do so directly through this integration.

Other integrations such as Hootsuite and Buffer allow you to plan out your posts in advance. You can set up a week’s worth of content in a single workday and let the integration post based on your schedule.

4. Connect With Other Businesses

Especially for small businesses, the connections you make can be extremely valuable now and in the future. Social media puts you in a position where you can network with the right people. Businesses can create partnerships with other brands, sports teams, and even influencers that can increase their visibility and brand reputation.

You might have seen some friendly banter between Wendy’s and its fast-food competitors on Twitter. While this is done in jest, the comments and posts net all parties more viewers on their profiles and posts. This certainly isn’t your typical form of collaboration, but it’s an example of what two brands can accomplish together through social media.

5. Track Data and Analytics

The backend of social media is just as important as what the customers see. Data and analytics show you what posts are working and which ones are falling short. A video you spent hours developing might not have as big of an impact as a simple image. If you’re not tracking data, you might not realize this.

Most social media platforms have a business page where you can view data analytics. This will give you basic information such as number of impressions, likes, comments, and other engagement with your posts. This will help you modify your content to have a greater impact.

The longer you track data, the more information you’ll have to use to improve your business. Collected data will become more reliable over time, so get started as soon as possible.

In today’s digital-driven world, if you’re not on social media, you may as well not exist. To gain the visibility that will attract customers and drive revenue, embrace these five tips to make social media work for you.

Image Credit: Tracy Le Blanc; Pexels; Thank you!

How to Keep Your Employees Better Connected

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How to Keep Employees Better Connected

The next time you’re at the park, pick up a twig and snap it with your hands. Pretty easy to do, right? Now gather up a group of sticks and try to do the same thing. You’ll find it a lot harder to break even one of the sticks now that they are gathered in a group.

This same concept can be applied to your workforce. When employees are better connected, they are much more difficult to break. They can overcome nearly any difficulty together and keep productivity at maximum capacity with a combination of trust, communication, and teamwork.

The question now is, how do you help your employees become better connected? Every person and team is different, but the following tips should help you to improve the sense of connection in your workplace over time:

Improve Your Onboarding Process

Employee connection starts with the onboarding process. This process includes all of the actions you take to acclimate new members of your team to the company. With a proper onboarding process, even your newest employees can feel connected to the team from day one.

One method you can consider is a mentorship program. This assigns a tenured employee to the new hire to help answer their questions, complete training, and simply be a new friend in the workplace. New employees will start off with a work buddy they can rely on and communicate with as they become more familiar with their new position and get to know the rest of the team.

Stay Connected Online

Keeping team members connected was a struggle many companies encountered during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. With entire organizations sheltering in place, there were no more team lunches, water cooler convos, or other daily interactions that occur naturally in an office space. What to do?

Managers and leaders got creative by using software programs to keep their employees connected online. This was primarily done through videoconference meetings that allowed teams to connect even while working from home. Perhaps the most value, though, was found through specialized apps such as project management software. These tools kept teams in sync and provided text channels for sharing documents, updates, and even some silly images.

The beauty of these software applications is that they can be used just as effectively by in-office teams as remote ones. Employees can send quick messages without having to get up from their desks, whether it’s to ask a simple question or share a laugh during the workday.

Meet Outside of Work

Full-time employees spend roughly 40 hours a week at their place of work, whether that’s in-office or remote. That’s a significant portion of their lives. The people they work with become more than just co-workers; they’re almost like an extended family. To make sure your work family continues to get along, plan some opportunities for them to connect outside of the work environment.

Common events companies will put together include team luncheons and dinners. Everyone appreciates a good meal on the house, but such gatherings also allow co-workers to spend time together and talk about more than just work. This allows teammates to form deeper relationships as they get to know their colleagues’ personal interests.

There are so many options you can consider here. Take your employees and their families to the water park on a summer weekend. Rent out a movie theater for an evening or organize a game night. As long as everyone is there and having fun, it should be a win in your book.

Hire for Soft Skills

An underrated aspect of team connectivity is hiring the right type of people. There are certain individuals who just aren’t compatible with others, and they can really get your team out of sync. Prioritizing soft skills when you hire people will help with that.

When interviewing an applicant, assessing their communication skills and personality traits can be just as important as combing through their résumé. One of your candidates might not boast the most experience, but they could be a fast learner and have a positive impact on the office culture.

Be very careful when making these sorts of decisions, though, as you don’t want to fall prey to bias. You shouldn’t automatically dismiss a job candidate just because you don’t immediately feel comfortable with them. Make sure you ask all candidates the same questions and give them the same assessments to ensure you’re evaluating each contender fairly. Your goal should be a diverse group of contributors who can work harmoniously together, not a team full of Mini-Mes.

Embrace Spontaneity

Even the best leaders can fall victim to micromanagement from time to time. You may be accidentally quelling some team connection without even realizing it. Sure, you want your employees to work hard, but sometimes embracing the spontaneity of certain moments can lead to greater productivity in the future.

For instance, the first reaction a manager might have to a group chit-chatting in the break room is to tell everyone to get back to work. At times this will be necessary, such as stopping inappropriate behavior or restarting work that has been brought to a standstill for too long. However, allowing your employees to converse at least relatively freely allows them to connect and build relationships that will be helpful for future collaboration.

The benefits of improved employee connectivity are pretty plain to see. Start building those connections within your organization today, and by the end of 2022, you should see a positive difference.

Image Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko; Pexels; Thank you!

How to Keep Your Office Running Smoothly During Spring Break

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How to Keep Office Running Smoothly Spring Break

Spring break is known for crazy beach parties and exotic getaways. But for many people, spring break means business as usual. For your business, this means managing your team and operations during one of the more interesting times of the year.

With so many people out of school or taking time off from work, there are a lot of adjustments you need to make to make this week a successful one. Here’s a little advice to help you get through the break:

Avoid Internal Miscommunication

Before spring break even begins, communicate with your team and make sure everyone is on the same page. Everyone should know who is taking time off during the break and who will be taking their place to complete tasks and manage workflows. When there’s proper communication in place, nothing will fall through the cracks.

One idea you can implement is designating an out-of-office contact who is in the loop about current projects. They can be a quick phone call or message away when an employee has a question about a task that the out-of-office employee normally handles. That person can enjoy their spring break without leaving the rest of their team high and dry.

Schedule Everything

A good schedule will keep your business on the right track even when spring break takes a lot of people out of your orbit. For instance, you should have your employees’ schedules set well in advance. If workers are trying to ask for time off at the last minute, things will get complicated rather quickly.

Whether you use scheduling software or appointment software, just keep in mind that it’s absolutely essential to plan. It’s also important to have a collaborative schedule that the entire team has access to. This can help avoid unnecessary questions about where someone is during spring break, when they return, and who is scheduled to work over the break.

You won’t always be able to stick to your perfectly organized schedule. Unexpected events will occur, and you’ll have to make adjustments along the way. Having an established schedule will make it easier to make those adjustments and roll with the punches.

Keep Customers in the Loop

As you make adjustments to prepare for the upcoming spring break, don’t forget to keep your customers in the loop. For example, if you have several employees taking time off, you may want to post a notice that you are unable to accept as many appointments or take care of as many customers during this time. If customers know this is the case beforehand, you won’t get backlogged by frustrated customers assuming that business is running as usual.

Many businesses keep their customers in the loop through social media posts. This is a great way to connect with customers as well as increase your visibility to potential new customers. However, not everyone will be checking social media pages for business updates. You should also be updating your company website regularly, especially if you’re dealing with online appointment bookings. An email newsletter can also help inform customers of upcoming changes they need to be aware of.

Add Some Incentives

Your business might not be worried about employees taking time off for spring break. But it might struggle with employees clocking in and feeling unmotivated because they wish they were on vacation. Whether it’s due to lingering travel concerns or a tight budget, your active employees could use a little push during spring break to keep motivation and morale high.

A few incentives should do the trick. A week-long sales competition with some tantalizing rewards can perk up the office and keep morale going strong. Offering a prize like a paid company vacation or the newest video game console should help pick up the pace of sales.

A guaranteed incentive will shine some light at the end of the tunnel as well. The office atmosphere will be a little lighter if employees are looking forward to a nice team dinner on Friday night rather than going home without any spring break plans.

Enable Remote Work

If there are aspects of your business that can be performed digitally, give it a whirl during this upcoming spring break. Your employees who want some extra time off during this time period will be able to do so while still being able to complete some necessary tasks. This may even set a precedent moving forward where hybrid work is enabled and allows employees to spend more time at home with their families.

There are many ways your business can enable remote work. A phone system can be set up in a home office to field calls from customers. Outgoing calls for sales or appointment confirmations can be made through a remote phone system. Any digital aspects of your business can also be done from home, such as payroll, marketing, and scheduling.

For many businesses, there has to be at least one person in-house in order for operations to continue and likely more if you run a customer-facing business such as a salon. It might not seem fair to employees that their coworkers are able to work from home, so consider incentives you can offer to make it up to them. Perhaps an extra paid vacation day at a slower time of the year will provide the needed motivation.

While it might not be as exciting to be working rather than vacationing over spring break, you can make it tolerable and even fun. You can also use these strategies for other holidays to keep your business running smoothly no matter what logistical hurdles arise.

Image Credit: Buro Millennial; Pexels; Thank you!

Learning to Speak With Clarity

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Learning to Speak With Clarity

In terms of content, it’s essential to structure our thoughts logically, as well as choose our words carefully. Just as important are projections, pronunciation, and diction. After all, in order to be a good communicator, you need to go beyond language skills.

In other words, you need to learn to speak with clarity

Whether you’re having a one-on-one meeting, speaking at an industry, or just shooting the breeze with friends or family, communicating with clarity shouldn’t be overlooked. It ensures that you’re delivering the right message. And, more importantly, that the other party gets that message loud and clear.

What’s more, it’s possible to learn to speak with clarity. And, to get started, here are nine strategies to utilize.

Identify and overcome obstacles.

In my opinion, identifying the obstacle should definitely be you’re starting point. How can you speak clearly without first identifying the overcoming the obstacles holding you back? It’s like trying to go on a bike ride when you have a flat tire.

While everyone has their specific hurdles, one way to identify your obstacle is to play time management games. These games reveal to you where you have unclear speech, as well as time issues.

Here are the most common challenges to clear speech and communication — and how you can resolve them.

Fast rate.

Unclear speech results from a variety of factors, such as being nervous. As a consequence, words become muddled up with consonants since vowels have become shortened. In fact, it’s when speaking, we should aim for about 140 words per minute.

Slowing down your speech and talking deliberately (at first) helps form your sounds more accurately. And, this gives your listeners time to process what you’re saying.

But, how can you slow down? One suggestion would be practicing deep breathing while speaking. You can also try the following;

  • “Practice Speaking and Self-Monitoring” exercises
  • Recording yourself practicing a speech. Not only does this let you hear how fast you’re talking, reciting your speech builds confidence.
  • “Shadowing” others, such as watching TED Talks and then, mimic speakers.
  • Working with a coach or consultant.

Slowing down naturally can best be accomplished by breathing deeply while speaking. After you gain clarity — in this day and age — I also think we need to step up the pace again when speaking. Slow speech aggregates those who are in a rush — which is most of us. Become clear in your speech first — then speed it up again. (I’d say it takes six months to a year to get this right, you can’t rush it — and it takes a lot of practice.)

Mumbling.

Another common culprit is mumbling. And, this usually goes hand in hand with fast speech. The reason for this is that the mouth doesn’t open as much when speaking quickly. In turn, the sound of your speech gets distorted since it’s being squeezed between your teeth.

The best way to address mumbling is by relaxing your jaw and tongue. Doing so will allow you to speak clearly and with greater precision. You can also use some of the strategies listed above, such as recording yourself. A more strange technique would be speaking with a cork in your mouth because it makes your mouth work harder to pronounce the words more clearly.

Some people mumble because of self-confidence — they don’t really believe what they have to say is important. Believe what you have to say has merit, and it will help with clarity. If you know you are mumbling today — just be quiet and listen.

A quiet voice.

Speaking too softly or not loud enough will result in a lack of clarity. What do your listeners have to work with when you aren’t putting enough sound into the room?

The more breath you take and the more vibrations you feel in your body, the more power you will be able to produce without straining. Keep in mind though, that your voice will appear louder to you than to your listeners. This is awkward, but don’t worry too much about it. Again — record and listen to your voice — continually adjust to the correct volume for the situation.

An accent.

Others may find it difficult to understand you when you have a thick accent. But, there’s nothing wrong with having an accent — all of us have one. But, depending on who is listening to it, it may be difficult to understand.

An accent is more problematic when combined with a weak voice or fast rate. As a result, a strong accent may cause confusion and frustration. Before you start speaking, make sure that you’re projecting well and speaking slowly. It could be as simple as that.

Usually, with a thick accent, you will need a coach. Listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first movies — you can hardly understand him. Listen when he was California’s governor — quite a bit better in his speaking. Listen to him today — he’s understandable. Schwarzenegger put a lot of time into his muscles — and in speaking better — with tons of work, many coaches, and practice. Speaking well and with clarity doesn’t happen by accident; it takes difficult work and practice.

Speaking with clarity is like anything else worth doing well — it takes practice and concentrated work to get it right. There are many YouTube’s about speaking well — look up a few of these.

Stay in your wheelhouse.

“The ‘most natural’ way to project confidence when we speak is when it’s done from the position of authority or as an expert,” says writer and wellness advocate Evelyn Marinoff. “We all tend to pay close attention to such individuals and believe pretty much everything that they say. Because they ‘know their stuff.’”

“So, find your strengths and passions, and further develop thembecome the best you can at what you do.”

This was actually a conversation my brother and I recently had. My argument was that I get turned off by people who are considered experts because they have a platform. It’s like when a celebrity champions a diet. They may not be wrong. But, they aren’t nutritionists and, so you should take their advice with a huge grain of salt.

Being an authority figure doesn’t just give you “brownie points with others—mainly, in the form of respect and appreciation, it will also breed confidence. In turn, this “makes us better armed to face the world, to weather adversities, and to calm down our nervousness and self-doubting.”

You don’t have to use big words.

It’s not uncommon for educated people and thought leaders to use a lot of big words when speaking. I can’t vouch for them all personally, but I believe it’s because they think that this will validate that they “know thief stuff.”

However, this isn’t always true. For some, having an extensive vocabulary is merely a tactic to hide behind. As a result, your arguments become misrepresented. And, that defeats the whole purpose of communicating with others.

Does this mean you should avoid big words all the time? Of course not. Sometimes they are more accurate and superior to their smaller cousins.

If you don’t want to exasperate or offend your audience, define big words before using them.

Captivate and engage others.

Piggybacking from the last point, an audience that doesn’t understand you won’t be able to benefit from your expertise. And, that might be because you’re using jargon. Remember, just because you and your colleagues throw around industry terms freely doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of their meanings.

Unless you know your audience, like their backgrounds and motivations, steer clear of the complicated words or acronyms that your audience is not familiar with. It’s a surefire way to lose them and prevent them from being engaged and captivated.

Another suggestion? Keep your explanations simple and clear. This guarantees that your audience can relate to and understand them. And, when they, you’ll be able to maintain their attention

In the words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Read a Thesaurus.

Using different words can ensure that other people will understand what you’re saying. By using synonyms and changing a sentence structure, it will be much easier to get someone’s attention. But, repetition is needed to initially grab their attention.

Repetition has a special quality that’s called “specialty.” This is because people can say the same thing in a variety of ways. It will be in your best interest to learn a wide range of synonyms and related words.

Here are just a couple of examples in action:

  • When you can’t think of a specific word, for example the word goal, you could say, “aim” or “objective” instead.
  • When you’re talking to someone and they don’t understand what you mean — you can use goals or intentions.
  • When you wish to reiterate your point — if you say, “we need to reduce expenses by creating a budget. This would save us a lot of money.” The short explanation gives clarification to the sentence.

Write more often.

It becomes easier to speak more clearly when you’re able to write well. Over time, your vocabulary, sentence structures, and arguments will become second nature.

The reason? It helps you prepare and think ahead. As a result, you do not need to focus on your structure or vocab. Instead, you can focus on your presentation structure in order to avoid mistakes. Even if you’re busy as heck, try writing in a journal during your morning routine for a couple of minutes may help.

Avoid sub-clauses.

Another benefit of writing? It allows you to put several arguments inside one another. In other words, writing allows your audience to find the beginning of your sentence so that they don’t get confused. You can’t do that when you’re speaking.

Therefore, don’t nest ideas inside each other. Be concise when writing and end one thought before starting another. When you clearly end a sentence — you won’t lose your audience. More importantly, the listeners can walk away with the key points you wanted to relay.

12 Ways to Encourage Your Team to Speak Up

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Communication is a skill that all successful leaders need to acquire and maintain — not just in business, but also life. Having the ability to speak in a calm, concise, and clear manner will help your team be able to do likewise. Sharing your vision, goals, and expectations is only one piece of the puzzle. It takes an accomplished communicator to encourage a team to speak up. After all, excellent communication helps strengthen relationships, allows the exchange of ideas, and assists your organization in overcoming barriers. There are 12 ways to encourage your team to speak up.

Unfortunately, a study from VitalSmarts shows that “one percent of employees feel “extremely confident” when it comes to voicing their concerns in the workplace at critical moments.” Additionally, “a third of employees say their organizations do not promote or support holding crucial conversations.”

How can you change these types of statistics? Start by implementing the following 12 techniques.

1. Get to the root of the problem.

The absolute first step you need to take is identifying why people aren’t raising their hands. If you don’t know why, then how can you fix the problem? It’s like if your car doesn’t start when you leave in the morning. You can’t repair a problem unless you know precisely what’s wrong in the first place.

You could interview your team or conduct focus groups. Someone other than you should do this interviewing, as they’re probably afraid to tell you why they don’t raise their hands. You could also issue surveys to get to the bottom of what’s going on. The issue may be because they’re afraid of being criticized by others on the team, or being overlooked for a promotion. Or, they may not understand what you expect from them.

In short, you need to find out what’s holding people from voicing their opinions. Then you can find ways to correct the course.

2. Don’t overwhelm your team.

Let’s say that you have everyone gathered for a team meeting. Without even giving attendees a chance to get settled, you bombard them with way too much information. Even worse, what if the assignments you’re throwing at them are abstract, complex, or even utterly boring.

If every member of your team has their head spinning, or they’re yawning, then they’re not going to be engaged. How can they ask questions or provide input when they don’t know exactly what’s happening? Or, they don’t even have the opportunity to participate because as the CEO, manager, or boss — we’re jumping from topic to topic too quickly.

Whenever presenting information, keep it as simple as possible. Skip the jargon and only focus on the top one or two issues. Remember, you don’t need to cover everything right now. Save the less critical stuff for another time.

3. Apply radical candor.

Kim Scott, a former executive at Google, coined the phrase “radical candor.” It may sound like a complex system. But, in reality, it’s merely creating a bs-free zone.

“Radical candor is clarity offered in the spirit of genuine support, where people feel it’s their responsibility to point out one another’s weaknesses to give them a hand up to the next level,” explains Grainne Forde on Teamwork.com. “Scott illustrates radical candor with an example in which her very inconsiderate boss told her she had a lousy speaking habit.

Scott was saying, ‘um’ too often. In front of the group, he told her that “um” made her sound unintelligent — and then offered to pay for a speaking coach to improve the problem.” Some would consider this a bit harsh, “her directness compelled her to take the feedback seriously and improve.”

I’ve found the degree of “radical candor,” Scott is talking about, should be saved for a one on one. Then after your “radical candor,” hand out a little extra encouragement. With one small compliment, your employee doesn’t consider you an enemy.

To achieve radical candor, both leaders and employees need to realize that feedback is constructive because it allows for growth and development. Additionally, there needs to be transparency. It’s the only way you’ll be able to assist them in working through their weaknesses.

4. Reward people for speaking up.

I vividly remember the first year I went away to a summer camp. The first couple of hours, I was fine. But, I became incredibly homesick later that night. After a couple of days, I was over my bout with homesickness and had no problem enjoying myself.

Towards the end of the week, the other kids in my group began discussing who would receive an award along the lines of, “camper of the week.” I suggested that maybe I would get nominated. This lead to the camp leading asking, “Why? You were homesick and didn’t say anything for a couple of days — and now you talk?”

Some people might think that he was out of line. But, he was right. Sure, I was engaged and did my best to be an ideal camper. But, that didn’t mean I deserved an award. At the same time, the person who did receive this award mentioned that they were proud of me. Now, that recognition was an awesome feeling.

My point is this. You don’t need to throw a party for an employee who asked a question during a meeting. But, you can still show them that you appreciate their contribution when they offer a comment. For example, if they make a high point during a meeting, genuinely thank them for participating. A genuine thank you can be two words. Thank you!

Hemant Kakkar and Subra Tangirala write in the Harvard Business Review, “[I]f you want your employees to be more vocal and contribute ideas and opinions, you should actively encourage this behavior and reward those who do it.”

5. Make meetings more engaging.

Meetings can be a serious time-waster. They can also crush productivity and morale when not when properly. However, there times when meetings are necessary. That’s why making them more effective should be a priority.

While there a multitude of ways for you to improve meetings, making sure that they’re engaging should be at the top of your list. You can achieve meetings worth showing up for, by:

  • Kicking things off with an icebreaker like telling a story or playing a fun game or activity.
  • Not using industry slang or terminology.
  • Asking invitees to leave their phones somewhere else.
  • Saving handouts until the conclusion of the event to avoid distractions.
  • Leaving time for a Q&A at the end.
  • Sending out an agenda in advance so that no one is surprised. Also, this gives invitees an opportunity to review any relevant information and prepare their questions or concerns.

6. Stop dominating the conversation and listen.

While I wouldn’t say this trait is part of all entrepreneurs — I do think that some of us have such a healthy ego that we love hearing ourselves talk. The problem is that if you’re always dominating the conversation, others won’t even bother chiming in. What’s the point when they know there’s hardly a chance to be a part of the discussion.

While there are times when you need to speak, work on talking less and listening more. It may take some practice. But, this is probably one of the most straightforward strategies to get your team to speak up more often.

7. Be aware of body language and power cues.

Body language and power cues are probably not something on the top of your mind. But, your nonverbal communication most definitely impacts the people around you. Think of it this way. How likely would you be to “willing” share your thoughts with a leader who is continuously frowning and standing there with their arms crossed? Probably very unlikely.

But, what if they smiled, made eye contact, and stood in a relaxed, upright posture? You wouldn’t feel as intimidated. A quick couple of words about mastering your body language — soften power cues. For example, leave the expensive wardrobe at home and wear something that doesn’t intimidate your employees. Consider replacing your office’s rectangle desk with an oval one so that you can sit next to them.

8. Boost teamwork.

“When employees work in teams, they actively practice sharing their thoughts and speaking up to accomplish tasks as a group,” writes Eric Friedman over at eSkill. “This gets them used to talking about their work, whether it’s sharing new ideas or concerns, and can be applied on a wider scale to the entire company.”

Fridman adds, “Teamwork also works on a psychological level by bringing employees closer together, helping them form bonds to each other and the work, which will help them feel more confident to speak their minds.”

9. Accept different types of feedback.

When you need to collect feedback, use a variety of methods to do so. Allow your team to express themselves; however, they’re most comfortable. If they have no problem speaking, then don’t force them to write down their thoughts. If they don’t want to discuss a sensitive issue out in the open, block out time for a one-on-one or place a suggestion box in the office.

10. Explain the consequences of participating.

Explaining the consequences of participating does not mean retaliating against employees whenever they share their thoughts. Nor does it indicate that you’ll punish those who aren’t contributing to the conversation. Instead, a consequence in this setting means letting your team know the importance of speaking up.

For example, what if an employee isn’t crystal clear on a task that was assigned to them during a meeting? They might be embarrassed about asking for more details in a meeting. But, by not raising their hand, they aren’t able to complete this responsibility, and likely there were a few others that didn’t get the information. As a result, this can impact not only their career, but also this action can put the rest of the team and organization in jeopardy.

11. Encourage them to take a public speaking class.

In the early days of my career, I was terrified about speaking in public. But, this was a fear I had to overcome. So, I took a public speaking class. Not only did it improve my speaking skills, but it also made me feel more at ease in front of a crowd.

If there are members of your organization, why have nightmares about public speaking, recommend that they also take such a class. It could be online, at a community college, or through an organization like Toastmasters. Here: 7 Powerful Public Speaking Tips From One of the Most-Watched TED Talks Speakers

12. Lead by example.

Do you think that your team will feel comfortable enough to speak their minds when you aren’t? Of course not. It may sound off a vibe that this isn’t an environment where people can openly share thoughts and ask questions.

While you should certainly listen to what others are saying, the other part of being a great communicator is clearly expressing your expectations. It’s also asking precise questions and not being shy when it comes to public speaking.

Moreover, don’t hide in your office all day. Walk around and chat with your team. Check-in with them to see how they’re doing and if there’s anything you can help them with. Go to lunch. These connections may not seem like a biggie, but the relationship shows that this is a workplace where people can comfortably speak up.

5 Best Practices for Controlling Your Calendar Notifications

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Small Business Owners and Social Media: How Much Time to Spend Online

Buzzes, beeps, dings, and swishes are the sounds of the workday. They’re useful, but they’re also distracting.

Constant notification noises put you in reactive mode. Working reactively is stressful, gets in the way of proactive thinking, and zaps energy you should be spending on focused work. But aside from silencing your computer or phone entirely — which may cause you to miss a call or a key appointment — what can you do to control them?

Setting boundaries is important if you want to use your time wisely. Try these five best practices to quiet the noise and boost your productivity:

1. Know your options.

The default settings in your scheduling software are not your friends. Find the settings menu, and start exploring. Keep in mind your options will differ depending on the device you’re using. 

Start with your device’s global settings. If you have an iPhone, you’ll see a notifications menu in the “Settings” app. A similar menu exists on Android devices. Here, you’ll find options for where notifications appear, how long they linger, and if your phone buzzes or dings upon receipt. 

Take the same approach on your computer. You might find an option that provides a heads up without annoying noises. For example, did you know that Microsoft Outlook can send you text notifications, summarizing your calendar for the day? Knowing your alert options is the first step in developing a system that serves you. 

2. Be selective.

Again, notifications exist to serve you, not the other way around. To regain control of your calendar notifications, choose which apps you actually want to hear from.

Say you’ve elected to receive Slack notifications on both your laptop and smartphone. Slack can notify you about every message in every channel, only on select channels, or only when you’re tagged. Those settings can be customized for each device. 

If you operate on-the-go, you might turn off all desktop alerts but opt to receive notifications from certain channels on your phone. If you stay close to your desk, you could opt for the opposite.

Personally, I prefer to turn off all notifications on my phone, except for those directly related to calls or texts. On my computer, I opt for email and Slack notifications. 

3. Use your senses.

Toggling the on/off switch isn’t the only way to control audio alerts on your devices. Your device’s notification settings allow you to adjust which apps send you vibration or audio notifications.

A favorite trick of mine is adjusting the sound alerts in Outlook. I don’t want to hear a chime every time a new email or calendar reminder occurs. Only when I receive an email directly from my team do I hear a chime. That sound signals to me that I should put down whatever else I’m working until I check whether the email is important and time-sensitive. 

4. Do more with your inbox.

Even if my email inbox is overflowing, I prefer to receive a notification there instead of on my phone. Here, I can sort, prioritize, and save messages until I’m ready to address them.

Many scheduling tools, including the one I use, allow you to send yourself reminders at appointed times. I set a monthly reminder to pay my credit card bill, so I receive an email at 9 a.m. the day before the bill is due.

I might accidentally dismiss the notification on my phone, but I can’t miss the email reminder in my inbox. Then, I mark it as important to keep it top of mind.

Try setting your calendar to email you 15 minutes before a meeting. To take it a step further, assign that email a special sound. 

5. Get focused.

Notifications are the enemy of deep work. Especially if you are about to engage in multitasking, turn your devices to “silent” and move them out of sight. Close Gmail, Slack, and any other applications that you’ve set to send you notifications.

If you need a notification to know when to stop, set a kitchen or online timer. Don’t use your phone for this because once the timer dings, you’ll be tempted to dive back into the notifications. 

Give yourself a block of uninterrupted work time — as well as one for personal time — every day. Sleep with your phone in airplane mode (or out of the bedroom entirely) so that your morning alarm doesn’t greet you with a list of notifications. Ironically, setting a calendar reminder for notification-free time can help with this. 

If you’re constantly feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, try taming your notifications. Trust your brain to remember what’s essential, and set your devices to remind you of the rest.

4 Fastest Ways to Ruin a Long-Term Client Relationship

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4 Fastest Ways to Ruin a Long-Term Client Relationship

Relationships, and particularly client relationships, require investment and maintenance. Without the proper care, even a long-term connection can break down. 

Losing a stable client can mean more than a hit to your profits: When a client cut ties, your business’s reputation is stained. That, in turn, may make other clients re-evaluate their relationship with you. And if you had a personal relationship with the client, that may suffer, too.

The good news is that with reflection and self-awareness, you can do your part to maintain long-term client relationships. Above all, avoid these four relationship-ruining mistakes:

1. You go dark when things go wrong.

It’s happened to all of us: The project begins to creep past its budget, or the timeline for delivery stalls.

It’s tempting to forget the problem and hope it goes away, leaving the client none the wiser. But the client will notice when his or her emails go unanswered. 

Always choose transparent, direct communication over avoidance. Transparency does not indicate weakness. In fact, transparent leaders are often admired because they admit to their flaws as well as their strengths. 

While it may be difficult in the moment, being upfront is important for maintaining a client’s trust in you and your brand. An informed client is a happy client.

2. You never initiate the conversation. 

Responding to a client’s requests for updates is important, but checking in without the client having to ask matters just as much.

First of all, waiting for the customer to come to you isn’t the best business strategy. It’s like waiting for a neighbor to pass by your lemonade stand instead of going door to door. Reaching out regularly to long-term clients keeps your services top of mind. 

Secondly, being the one to reach out builds social capital with clients. If you get to know your clients as people first, chances are that they’ll be more gracious when a deadline gets changed or a deliverable isn’t met. 

Treat clients like human beings: Ask about their families and hobbies. Celebrate successes with them, and likewise, send condolences when appropriate. If you’re worried you’ll forget, use automation to remind you to reach out regularly. 

3. You don’t set boundaries.

Boundaries might seem like just a buzzword, but guarding your time is important when you need to give lots of accounts regular attention. 

The best time to communicate expectations? The beginning of a relationship or, with long-term clients, the start of a new project. 

Ask your client how they prefer to communicate. Will he expect regular updates? Or would he prefer that you handle the project and only come to him with problems, questions, or a draft to review? Regardless, be clear that you aren’t available for out-of-the-blue calls or unnecessary meetings.

4. You repeat past mistakes.

Failure is hard to swallow in any setting, but it’s exceptionally difficult when it involves a long-term relationship. Clients who trust you will likely overlook one or two mistakes, but don’t expect them to do so if you keep making the same ones. 

What if you do make a stomach-churning, cheek-burning mistake? Don’t look outward for someone else to blame; turn inward and ask what factors might have caused you to make the error.

Take your cue from Brene Brown, who encourages leaders to “rumble” with their mistakes. Use phrases like “help me understand” and “I’m wondering” to put the onus for change on yourself.

What if you do make the same mistake again? Communicate clearly and directly, explain the situation, make an apology, and offer a path forward. In the long run, owning your actions and being a person of your word will always pay off. 

Strong client relationships are the cornerstone of any successful business. If in doubt about how to handle a long-term relationship, remember the Golden Rule: Treat them like how you’d want to be treated, and they’ll do the same for you. 

5 Ways to Improve Office Communication

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At work and in life, communication is key. Open, efficient lines of communication make companies more productive and keep employees happy. Twisted or broken ones produce mistakes and burnout.

But good communication is about more than talking to each other regularly. To communicate well, companies need clear processes and effective tools. Here’s where to start:

1. Minimize drop-in chats.

What’s wrong with walking down to a co-worker’s office to ask a quick question? Not only does it interrupt what he or she is working on, but it tends to spiral into unrelated conversation. As important as the outcome of last night’s game is, it’s irrelevant to work.

Encourage your employees to reduce the small talk by using Slack for small questions and comments. For longer conversations, or those that require multiple people, schedule a meeting. Small talk can be healthy for office relationships, but precious work time can quickly go down the drain when employees are visiting each other’s work spaces throughout the day.  

2. Share calendars.

The practice of sharing calendars allows employees to schedule meetings with each other and gain insight into their co-workers’ projects and daily schedules. Many calendar apps allow workers to share tasks, view what’s been completed by each party, and send messages back and forth.

To choose the best online calendar for your business, take into account usability, integrations, and features. Look for a low-cost or free option that provides insight into who you’re spending your work time with. If you work across time zones, be sure your calendar can automatically adjust the time depending on where each user is. 

3. Send out meeting agendas ahead of time.

Meetings can be valuable, and face-to-face communication is still the foundation of strong relationships. But without a clear agenda, meetings can run long or be dominated by side conversations.

At least a day in advance of each meeting, compile an agenda and send it out ahead of time. Ensure everyone knows what the meeting’s goal is, who is involved, and what they might need to bring to the table. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for fun in meetings, but an agenda helps you respect your workers’ time by making the best use of it. 

4. Encourage personal relationships.

Efficiency is hugely important for good communication, but do not let it get in the way of office camaraderie. Carve out time for your employees to get to know one another on a personal level. Host office lunches and holiday parties. If a meeting involves new faces, do a brief icebreaker activity at the start.

The better your employees know each other as individuals, the better they will be able to communicate with each other and work as a team. If anyone feels left out, the whole team’s efficiency will suffer. 

5. Avoid over-communication.

We’ve all had the experience of coming back to work after a few days out of the office and having 1,000 unread emails in our inbox. Not only does going through those take time, but it adds unnecessary stress and risks miscommunications. With over 281 emails sent and received every day around the globe, over-communication is a real risk.

Be careful not to create an environment where people’s inboxes are constantly flooded with unnecessary or irrelevant messages. Instead of sending out multiple informational emails throughout the week, perhaps you can send out one concise weekly email that summarizes the team’s progress.

Be sure, too, to consider your audience. Does everyone on your team need the information you’re sending? It’s better to over-communicate than to under-communicate, but your workers will start to tune out mass quantities of emails in their inboxes. 

The same principle holds true for meetings. To the best of your ability, invite only the people to each meeting that need the information you’re presenting. Present only the information that those people need. 

Poor communication is frustrating and costly. Be a model of good communication. Put the right processes in place, and you’ll achieve that ideal blend of efficiency and strong relationships.

5 Ways You Can Communicate Effectively in a Business Meeting

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If you’re like most business professionals, the majority of your day is spent in meetings. Sometimes you can get a lot accomplished during this time. However, they are often ineffective. If you want to get more accomplished in your business meetings you need to communicate effectively. You need to communicate the purpose of the meeting and the actionable takeaways when it wraps up.

Here are five ways you can communicate effectively in business meetings.

Take the time to prepare.

Before delivering a speech, you always take the time to prepare what you’re going to say. The same thing applies to your business meetings. Before you even schedule the meeting, prepare what you’re going to say. The reason you should do this before the meeting is scheduled is because it forces you to find a clear value or purpose for the meeting. If you have trouble preparing useful content for the meeting, it’s maybe best to hold off or cancel it all together. Once you’ve prepared, gather your thoughts into key bullet points you can reference throughout the meeting.

Don’t talk over others.

If two people are talking at the same time, odds are neither one is being heard. As excitement (or tension) rises in the room, people tend to talk over each other. This is extremely unproductive. If you get interrupted, refrain from trying to battle the other person for the ears in the room. Let them finish their points, and make sure to address them afterwards. If they try to interrupt you again, respectfully tell them to let you finish before they respond.

Pay attention to body language.

Body language is a huge part of effective conversation. When you’re speaking, make sure you are making eye contact with others and that you are sitting in an upright position. When looking at someone in the eyes, it builds trust and makes you seem more sincere. Additionally, you should gauge the body language of your listeners as well. If they are looking off into the distance or slouched in their seats, odds are they aren’t picking up what you’re saying.

Always try to mix things up.

Business meetings, especially long ones, can get very dull very quickly. Sometimes, that’s just the nature of the content being discussed. When you sense things start to go dry, try to mix things up a bit. If you need to, you can take a break completely from what’s being discussed. Open up the floor to discussion and get everyone reengaged. If you’re diligent about keeping track of where you left off, these breaks won’t serve as a distraction.

Always summarize and repeat key points.

This is something you need to learn for any kind of communication. People often underestimate how well their points are received by who they’re talking to. To be honest, people are generally bad listeners. While you can’t make them “listen better” you can take it upon yourself to hammer home your key points. After you’ve delivered your message, you should always summarize and reiterate your key points. It will help both you, and the audience retain what’s been said. Before you head into your next business meeting, make sure you remember the five points listed above. It will help keep your business meetings organized and productive.
Originally published here.  
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